Roughly 3 in 10 NHL Defensemen are right-handed shots, but given that half the available jobs are on the right side of the ice, lots of players are being asked to play on the opposite side from where they learned the game.
This is no small matter.
Some old hands, like Anaheim's Scott Niedermayer and Philadelphia's Chris Pronger, adjusted long ago, but others say it doesn't feel natural even years later.
Take the Montreal Canadiens' Josh Gorges, who played his entire minor hockey, junior and pro career on the left before being moved across the ice when he was traded to Montreal in 2007 (for righty Craig Rivet, now of Buffalo).
“I still don't know that I feel comfortable,” Gorges said recently. “I'm still learning. I mean, I played on the left for 21 years. It's really amazing how 35 feet to the other side can change your whole outlook on the game. Everything kind of seems to happen on fast-forward.”
There are advantages: A left-handed shot on the right has his stick-blade in the centre of the ice when facing shooters, and it's easier to intercept passes.
But there are also problems, like trying to hold a puck in the offensive zone with a hard-charging opponent in your face. “That's hard enough to do on the forehand,” Gorges said.
The biggest drawback, he added, is emerging from behind the net or making dump-ins at the opposing blueline. “You're exposing your back to the middle of the ice, guys can crunch you and you might not see them coming.”
Fellow Hab Jaroslav Spacek made no secret of his wish to play on the left side when he joined the team as a free agent last summer, but he was overruled by Montreal coach Jacques Martin and has been playing on the right alongside Czech countryman Roman Hamrlik, a fellow left-handed shot.
Is he used to it yet? “No,” Spacek grimaced in a recent interview.
Spacek leads the NHL in giveaways, and some of that clearly has to do with going back to an unaccustomed position. Though he played the right side in Europe, the NHL is a different animal, especially for a player who has patrolled the left for more than a decade.
“It's not easy to have the puck on your backhand all night,” Spacek said. “It's harder to make a good pass on the breakouts. You have to try not to go around yourself too much, and make the simple plays, but it's harder for sure, you have to look over your shoulder all the time, you can't see the whole ice when you pick the puck up.”
Right-handed shots are at a premium on bluelines across the NHL. The Habs have only one righty, Ryan O'Byrne.
The good news for Habs Nation is that the organization's three top defensive prospects – P.K. Subban, Yannick Weber and Mathieu Carle – are all righties.
Among Canadian NHL teams, the Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators each have at least two right-handed shots among their top seven defencemen.
In acquiring Ian White and Steve Staios, the Calgary Flames have restored balance to their corps of regular blueliners – four lefties, three righties.
But that's the exception rather than the rule. Minnesota, the Rangers and Buffalo have a similar mix, but Philadelphia, New Jersey and Florida have all-lefty defencemen.
More than a half dozen other teams have just one right-handed shot on defence – in some cases none in their top six – including Carolina, Columbus, Detroit, the Islanders and Colorado.
In future, that will mean more players having to get used to shovelling the puck up the boards on their backhand, or learning to bang it off the glass effectively in traffic.
“It's all about confidence and experience,” Gorges said. “But it takes a while, no question.”